We’ve all had those people in our lives that, for whatever reason, seem to be the leaders amongst us. What is it that makes these people command our respect and following? For sure, some of these characteristics are subjective – important to some but not to all of us. However, it is fair to say that there are certain characteristics that truly appeal to us all about some leaders. It’s almost as if they have “leadership pheromones” – or some type of chemical that elicits a natural response to follow them. During the course of my blogging, I have written about traits of leaders that command my respect. But I have done so across many entries and wanted to capture these thoughts in one, concise entry so as to lay out a clear picture of an ideal leader.
First and foremost, a leader is someone who truly understands how to communicate clearly, and who understands that communication is a two-sided activity – it requires both a speaker and a listener. To be an effective communicator, it is necessary to master the skills required on both sides.
Think about it from your own experiences. Don’t you have memories of certain people, be it a parent, teacher, co-worker, boss, friend, politician, etc. who has left a permanent and positive impression upon you? Can you think of the best communicators you know? Are they leaders in their own realms? Don’t ever underestimate the power of communication to inspire, move and affect us. In fact, even crazy ideas can be made to sound not-so-crazy if communicated by a talented, capable speaker.
Furthermore, and very much related to this, a leader must always speak openly and honestly. There is simply no way to command respect and authority if people don’t believe what you say. Leaders have a job to do – to lead a group toward a common goal. How can this be accomplished if the members of the group don’t trust in the words of the leader?
Now, understand what it means to be open and honest – sometimes leaders have to say things that are unpleasant. But when given a choice between saying something to create a change in someone’s performance or behavior or not saying something and hoping for change, there is really no clearer answer – a leader must “tell it like it is“.
Another quality of great leaders is their ability to get things done – and to do this, you need practical experience. Like moths to a light, great leaders attract great people, and great teams accomplish great things. I like to use the term village to describe family members, friends, colleagues and co-workers who provide a breadth of input and insight to all that we do. Leaders know that they must leverage their village in order to achieve great results. No one can do everything themselves. However, those that can attract and retain top talent around them are destined for greatness. As I like to say, hire smart and get out of the way.
Lastly, great leaders understand that with clear, honest communication and a village of folks to tackle the tasks at hand, the main inspiration they must provide is a compelling vision of the desired goal. Then manage the outcome, not the process. Managing to outcomes empowers the village to accomplish the task in the best way they see. It allows your team to lead from the middle. By not micro-managing the process, leaders can instill faith and confidence in the team to meet their responsibilities. It also allows a leader to focus and to responsibly manage their own numerous competing priorities.
While surely there are countless characteristics that differentiate a leader from a great leader, those that I discuss here are vital traits that anyone who aspires to be a strong, accomplished leader must embody. And since I mention that there are many unstated characteristics, a great leader will never become complacent in their skill sets; but rather, they will engage in continuous learning.
Nina Nets It Out: We all aspire to be the best we can be. For me, achieving greatness as a leader, like learning itself, is a process not an event. I continue to seek out ways to better myself as both a leader and as a person. I talk to those around me to gain the benefit of their insights and knowledge. With this goal in mind, please let me know what traits you consider great about leaders you’re familiar with.